July was some month (part 1)

July was some month. I released my second solo album and I played gigs at a bowling green pavilion, the concourse of a major railway station, an ancient industrial waterwheel, a fruit and veg co-operative, and a tin church.

The Indietracks festival, in particular, is just everything. But just playing five gigs in three weeks is everything too. It’s the sort of thing I used to do ten years ago. This matters all the world.

In this blogpost I’ll look back at July in the run-up to Indietracks, then I’ll write another one about Indietracks itself.

I’m proud to have played a little role at Hillsfest – a two-day event in Hillsborough Park and, it’s probably safe to say, one of the few chances the people of north-west Sheffield will ever have to experience poetry and chainsaw carving at the same festival.

Hillsfest boasted a tremendous spoken word line-up. I wish I’d been around for more of it: just the part I experienced on Sunday was exhilarating, before and after my slot (which was the first time I’d done a half-and-half set of music and poetry). The best way to get a feel for it is at the Longbarrow Press blog, which has a terrific account of the weekend. But it was a great thing to be part of and I hope it happens again in 2017. The finale, featuring Rommi Smith accompanied by Jenni Molloy, was spellbinding.

Unusually, I could make it along to Sheffield’s Tramlines festival this year: for once it wasn’t on the same weekend as Indietracks. The exotic notion of applying to actually play at it did not occur to me (hey, I only had a new album to try and sell; why would my brain entertain so outlandish a possibility?), but happily I got a couple of offers anyway. And playing a set on a Friday evening in the concourse of Sheffield railway station was one of the most joyously logical actions of my musical life.

Accompanied (as Emma’s photo below demonstrates) by Danielle Cope, my bandmate in The Sweet Nothings, I bellowed out a handful of my most railway-relevant tunes, plus a cover of The Smiths’ ‘London’ which we worked up specially for the occasion. As you might expect, there was a lot of ambient sound to overhaul, but the acoustics of the location were terrific, and it was a lot of fun to play. The station gig, which featured several other live acts and DJs during the afternoon, is a regular occurence in Leicester under the Train Sets banner: one more reason to visit that estimable city.

Three days later I performed again in the altogether more serene context of Shepherd’s Wheel on the Porter Brook over in Bingham Park. Until the 1930s this was a working waterwheel used to grind cutlery; today it’s beautifully maintained by Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust.

Just behind the wheel is a space perfectly shaped and sized for a small open-air gig – and conducive, I think, to the half music, half poetry set that I performed. An account of the event blogged by its organiser Scott Russell says:

[Pete’s] exploration of the ideas of changing places, and traces of lost histories chimed really well with the site. Poems [and] songs such as Diminished, Dream of Firsby Station and When I Close My Eyes I See the Sea  expressed a kind of ‘Sheffield Saudade’, a reaching out for a missing something.  My favourite moment was his reading of an excerpt of his new long-form poem Sheffield Almanac, soon to be published, which drilled into the heritage of Sheffield’s crumbling industry, and its complex relationship between past, present and future.

Another review appeared in Now Then, by Rob Aldam, which includes this:

Pete writes about landscapes, coastlines and aspects of the North, both lost and found. His work is both a love letter to and memoir of what was and what is, celebrating the past and present of this tumultuous island.

In a beautiful family atmosphere he entertained, beguiled, moved and amused, with a performance which epitomised an artist who is confidently striding along the right path.

I was lucky enough to catch Scott’s own very beguiling set before I played, and Nat Johnson afterwards, who seemed on her best form in ages. With admirable synchronicity, the Urban Forest poetry walk then arrived at Shepherd’s Wheel: a many-headed, multi-faceted delight.

My new album plays around with field recordings and backing tracks. Getting a slot on the church stage at Indietracks meant I could start working these into the live set for the first time. With the infinite number of things that could go wrong here, it seemed wise to play a warm-up show just beforehand. How do you even play backing tracks? From your phone? What if your mum calls during the set?

Another good reason for a pre-Indietracks workout was the introduction of a live rhythm section for one part of one song, with Dan Hartley (also my Sweet Nothings bandmate) on bass and Ian Turley on drums. As it happened, Dan was arranging a Sheffield gig for two other acts who were preparing to play Indietracks: Maggie8 (from Leeds) and Jessica & the Fletchers (from Barcelona). So the stage was set.

It was at Regather Works, on the Thursday night before we set off for deepest Derbyshire, and it was a joy from start to finish. Just as I was admiring the fresh take on indiepop offered up by Maggie8’s enthralling set, and thinking how important it was that the genre develop and renew itself in exactly this way, Jessica & the Fletchers got up and played an equally brilliant and completely old-school set with little in the way of concession to anything that has happened since 1988.

I found a wonderful blogpost which mentions the Regather gig. It’s by an Italian pop fan who managed to see a staggering number of bands during the week he spent in northern England in the run-up to Indietracks. There are some charming and compelling observations about the indiepop scene and the cities he visited. Barto’s comment on my set is rendered by Google Translate as:

large fine songwriter and excellent execution, with a clever use of backing tracks. Bravo

but the entry for 28 July adds the disclaimer “a un certo punto ero seriamente ubriaco, quindi magari qui i commenti sono meno attendibili“, which comes out of Google Translate as:

at one point I was seriously drunk, so maybe here the comments are less reliable

Don’t worry about it, mate. We’ve all been there.

Look out for my Actual Indietracks Blogpost soon… and meanwhile, listen to and buy We’re Never Going Home
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One response to “July was some month (part 1)

  1. Hi Pete! Thanks for mentioning my blogpost and reading it so carefully, means a lot to me! And I can tell you that night I was drunk well after your set, so my opinion on it is actually reliable 🙂 Then that Belgian style beer at Regather was so good I couldn’t stop drinking…

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